Are you ready to diversify your garden and spice up your meals? It’s time to learn how to grow tomatillos – the lesser-known, zesty cousin of the tomato. These versatile fruits are perfect for adding a tangy twist to your favorite dishes, such as salsas and sauces. Tomatillos are not only easy to cultivate but also love warm weather and yield an abundant harvest. So, let’s dive into the world of tomatillos and discover how you can grow these delightful green gems in your own garden.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. See my disclosure policy for more information.
7 Tips for How to Grow Tomatillos
1. Plant tomatillos correctly and at the best time
When to plant tomatillos:
Tomatillos require a long growing season, so it’s wise to start seeds indoors or purchase healthy transplants from a local nursery to ensure your tomatillos have ample time to grow and produce a bountiful harvest.
If starting from seed indoors, start seeds 6 – 8 weeks before the last frost. Not sure when your last frost date is? Enter your zip code into this Frost Date Calculator.
Seeds are available from Seedsnow.com.
The ideal time to plant tomatillos is when the danger of frost has passed, and the soil temperature reaches at least 60°F (15.5°C). Tomatillos prefer warm soil (70-80℉ / 21-26°C) and are frost and cold-sensitive. Use a soil thermometer to check soil temperature before planting.
In the low desert of Arizona:
- Start seeds indoors: December – January and May – July
- Plant transplants outside: February 15 – March and July 15 – September
How to plant tomatillos:
When transplanting seedlings outdoors, ensure they are spaced 18-24 inches (45-60 cm) apart in rows 3 feet (1 m) apart to provide ample room for growth. Tomatillos thrive in well-draining, fertile soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0. Amend your soil with compost or well-rotted manure. For square-foot gardening, allow 4 squares per plant.
Tomatillo means “little tomato” in Spanish, and just like tomatoes, tomatillos can be planted deeply – up to the top leaves of the plant. Roots will form along the stem of the buried tomatillo and feed the growing plant.
2. Give tomatillos plenty of room, support & sunlight
When planting tomatillos, give them plenty of room to grow and support to climb. Tomatillo plants can reach up to 5 feet (1.5 m) in height and 3 feet (1 m) in width, so make sure you give them enough space for their roots to spread out.
As tomatillo plants grow, they can become quite heavy with fruit. Provide support by staking or using tomato cages to keep branches off the ground and prevent damage.
Tomatillos also need plenty of sunlight, so choose a spot that gets at least 6 hours of direct sun each day.
Provide afternoon shade for tomatillos if you live in a hot summer climate like the low desert of Arizona. This post shares ways to add shade to your garden.
3. Encourage pollination for a successful harvest
One essential tip for successfully growing tomatillos is to always plant at least two plants near each other. Unlike other plants, tomatillos are not self-fruitful and require cross-pollination to produce fruit. By planting a minimum of two tomatillo plants in proximity, you’ll ensure that pollinators can easily transfer pollen between them, leading to a plentiful harvest.
Encourage pollinators like bees and butterflies to visit your garden by planting flowers nearby. This will help ensure successful cross-pollination and fruit set.
4. Care for growing tomatillos correctly
- Tomatillos need even moisture to prevent blossom end rot. The soil should be well-draining. Water regularly during dry periods. Avoid overwatering, as this can lead to root rot.
- Mulching: Apply a layer of organic mulch around the base of your plants to help retain moisture, regulate soil temperature, and suppress weeds.
- Don’t give tomatillos supplemental nitrogen, as this can lead to excessive foliage growth at the expense of fruit production. Instead, provide a balanced, organic fertilizer high in phosphorous and potassium to encourage healthy fruiting as needed. To determine whether your soil is lacking these essential nutrients, consider conducting a soil test.
- Remove any suckers (small shoots growing from the base of the plant) and lower leaves that touch the ground to improve air circulation and reduce the risk of disease.
5. Keep an eye out for common pests & diseases
Tomatillos, like other plants, can fall prey to various pests and diseases
Common pests that may affect your tomatillo plants:
- Aphids: These tiny insects suck sap from plant leaves, causing them to curl and distort. They can also spread plant viruses.
- Tomato Hornworms: These large green caterpillars can cause significant damage to tomatillo foliage. Handpick them from your plants or use a natural pesticide like Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) to control their population.
- Flea Beetles: These small black beetles chew tiny holes in the leaves. Use floating row covers to protect young plants, or apply diatomaceous earth.
- Whiteflies: These small white insects feed on plant sap, leading to yellowing leaves and stunted growth. Control whiteflies with sticky traps.
- Cutworms: These caterpillars feed on the stems of young plants at ground level, causing them to collapse. Protect your plants by placing collars around the base of the stem or applying diatomaceous earth.
- Spider Mites: These tiny pests can cause leaves to turn yellow and dry out. Increase humidity around your plants.
- Three-lined Cucumber Beetles: These beetles feed on the foliage and flowers of various plants, including tomatillos, causing significant damage and potentially spreading bacterial wilt.
Methods to manage and prevent pest damage on tomatillo plants:
- Regularly inspect your tomatillo plants for signs of pests; early detection is key to successfully keeping them in check.
- Physical barriers: Use floating row covers to protect your plants, especially during the early stages of growth when they are most vulnerable.
- Beneficial insects: Encourage natural predators like ladybugs, lacewings, and parasitic wasps by planting diverse flowering plants in your garden.
- Trap crops: Plant attractive trap crops, such as borage, near your tomatillos to lure pests away from your main crop. Read this blog post for more companion planting ideas.
- Handpicking: Be vigilant about checking your tomatillo plants and handpick beetles. Check the undersides of leaves for eggs. Keep a cup of soapy water near your plant to dispose of pests easily.
Read this blog post for organic pest control ideas that really work.
Diseases that may affect your tomatillo plants:
- Early blight: This fungal disease causes dark spots on leaves, which can eventually lead to yellowing and dropping off. It can also cause lesions on stems and fruits.
- Late blight: Another fungal disease that causes irregular-shaped brown or black spots on leaves, stems, and fruits. Late blight can spread quickly and is often more severe in cool, wet conditions.
- Verticillium wilt: A soil-borne fungal disease that causes yellowing and wilting of leaves, usually starting from the lower part of the plant and moving upward.
- Fusarium wilt: Similar to Verticillium wilt, Fusarium wilt is also a soil-borne fungal disease that causes wilting and yellowing of leaves.
Prevention of common tomatillo diseases:
- Crop rotation: Rotate your crops every 2-3 years to minimize the buildup of soil-borne pathogens.
- Plant resistant varieties: Choose tomatillo varieties resistant to common diseases when possible.
- Healthy soil: Maintain healthy soil with good drainage and proper nutrient balance. Use compost and organic matter to improve soil structure.
- Watering: Water your plants at the base to avoid wetting the foliage, which can promote fungal growth. Water early in the day to allow leaves to dry before nightfall.
- Pruning: Remove any diseased or damaged plant parts and maintain good air circulation by pruning excess foliage.
- Sanitation: Clean up plant debris and fallen leaves to reduce the chance of disease spreading.
Organic Treatment for tomatillo diseases:
- Baking soda spray: Mix one tablespoon of baking soda with 2.5 tablespoons of vegetable oil and a gallon of water. Spray on affected plants every 7-10 days to help control fungal diseases.
- Copper fungicides: Use copper-based fungicides as a preventative measure or to treat early signs of fungal diseases. Always follow the label instructions for proper application.
- Biological control: Use beneficial microorganisms like Trichoderma or Bacillus subtilis to suppress soil-borne pathogens.
6. Harvest tomatillos at the right time
Fruit typically begins to ripen 60 – 80 days after transplant and continues to produce through frost. Picking tomatillos as they ripen encourages the plant to keep producing.
Very dry husk
Husk just beginning to dry out
Fruit is small and hard
Fruit fills husk
Slight softening of fruit
Best flavor; smaller seeds
7. Enjoy the harvest
Once you know how to grow tomatillos, you’ll have plenty to share with family and friends.
- Storing: Keep your tomatillos fresh by storing them in the refrigerator with their husks still on. This helps maintain their freshness and flavor for an extended period.
- Preparation: When you’re ready to use your tomatillos, remove the husks and rinse off any sticky residue under running water.
- Fresh uses: Chop up fresh tomatillos and add them to guacamole or salsa for a tangy twist. Their unique flavor complements many dishes, especially those from Mexican cuisine.
- Cooking methods: Roasting or sautéing tomatillos brings out their natural sweetness and deepens their flavor. For a deliciously complex taste, use roasted or sautéed tomatillos in sauces, salsas, or stews.